Ed Breen · 2016

breen-webAs a teenager growing up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Edward E. Breen, along with many other citizens of the town, was attracted to the downtown one day by news of a major fire. While watching firefighters struggle to put out the flames, Breen noticed a woman with a Minolta Autocord camera around her neck and a power pack slung over her shoulder, without hesitation or explanation, march past the police barricades and into the gaggle of police and firemen.

The woman was Helen Strode, police reporter for the Fort Dodge Messenger and Chronicle, who later served as Breen’s mentor when he became a journalist.

“I really liked the idea of going past the barricades, going where others were denied and where I might find something interesting,” Breen recalled.

From the time he started work as a part-time and summer employee at his hometown newspaper through years of dedicated work for the Chronicle-Tribune in Marion and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Breen found plenty of interesting material to report on and photograph. In a career that included stints as reporter, photographer, city editor, graphics director, features and special projects editor, and managing editor, Breen recognized that the discussions regarding the balance between word and picture content in newspapers ignored the fundamental point: “The purpose and function of each is totally different,” he said. “But both are tools of equal importance in carrying a message to the reader of the printed page

Breen has been recognized by his peers as a “pioneer in the early days of full-color newspaper photography, one of those people who made the rest of us realize what was possible,” noted Jack Ronald, publisher of the Portland Commercial Review. Emmett K. Smelser, who first met Breen 40 years ago, noted that a visit to the Chronicle-Tribune’s newsroom showed why that newspaper was “considered a national leader in the bold use of color and offset printing” and why Smelser described his colleague as the “epitome of a news professional—dedicated to his craft, his community and his state.”

Breen’s commitment to the Hoosier State also includes being one of the co-founders of the Mississinewa Battlefield Society, longtime board member for the Indiana Historical Society, columnist for the weekly Marion News Herald and featured commentator and co-host for WBAT radio’s daily “Good Morning Grant County” program. Not a bad list of accomplishments for someone who had to teach himself how to type in order to secure his first job in journalism.

In the autumn of 1960 Breen was working as a drugstore soda jerk after classes were finished at his Saint Edmond High School in Fort Dodge and on weekends. One of his customers for the out-of-town newspapers for sale in the store each Sunday was the sports editor of the local newspaper. He asked Breen if he might be interested in working Friday nights in the sports department, taking call-in high school games from the area and writing three-paragraph summaries and statistics.

Breen jumped at the opportunity, but came up short when the editor asked him if he could type. He answered “yes,” and spent that weekend teaching himself three-finger typing, started at the newspaper the next Friday night, and “haven’t left the newsroom (in some form) for 56 years,” he said

After leaving Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1964, Breen found a job as a photographer at the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. It was there that editor Jim Geladas, a pioneer in the photojournalism world of the 1960s, gave the young journalist the direction and education he needed to become a professional photographer and, said Breen, “to an extent, a writer.” A former Marine, Geladas ran his newsroom that way. “You learned, by God, or moved on,” said Breen. “He asked much and gave much.”

After marrying Ruth Joanne Schiltz on Feb. 27, 1965, Breen moved to Wisconsin and edited the weekly Plymouth Review. He was there when Dick Martin, who had been his Sunday editor in Dubuque, started as editor of Marion, Indiana’s Leader-Tribune (the morning newspaper that preceded the merger with the Marion Chronicle into the all-day Chronicle Tribune). Martin asked Breen to come to Marion to be a reporter/photographer for $110 a week, a slightly better offer than one he had received from the Milwaukee Journal. “I told Martin I would stay two years,” Breen said, who stayed much longer than that

Martin cared deeply about the craft of storytelling, saw that Breen understood how to tell stories with pictures and was a “reasonably good writer,” and gave him the freedom to do both, often on the same assignment. Martin assembled “a sort of magic-moment staff” in Marion, Breen recalled, including Gene Policinski, Phil Witherow, Jerry Miller and others, that resulted in winning the Hoosier State Press Association’s Blue Ribbon daily newspaper award for several years in a row. Personal honors also came Breen’s way, including Indiana News Photographer of the Year in 1967 and numerous photography and writing awards from the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors and the Hoosier State Press Association.

Breen moved to the Journal Gazette in August 1995, working as that newspaper’s assistant managing editor for photography and graphics until retiring in July 2009. Craig Klugman, Breen’s editor for nearly 15 years, noted that his friend liked to say his job at the Fort Wayne newspaper was to “walk around the newsroom, coffee cup in hand, assuring younger staff members that things would be OK. Ed did that, certainly, but he did much more.”

Klugman worked directly with Breen on the newspaper’s Sunday “Perspective” section. The editorial board met every Monday to discuss what was coming up on Sunday. This put Breen in a difficult position, said Klugman, because the editorial staff, by definition, had to talk about positions, while Breen, as a member of the news staff, had to remain objective.

“But Ed handled the problem perfectly,” said Klugman. “He stayed out of any discussions of what we would say. But he always had an answer for how the paper would illustrate a story or essay (not to mention how to focus some of our wide-ranging ideas).” Breen, Klugman added, always “carried himself like the pro he was,” and, even today, more than a decade after leaving daily newspaper journalism, Breen “feels an irresistible pressure to tell stories, to speak truth to power, and to inform.”

Reflecting on his career in newspapers, Breen mused that he had been there for enough of the good years to understand both the importance of journalism and “the joy of doing it well. As John Quinn put it so elegantly, ‘It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.’”

— by Ray Boomhower, board member


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